The Dark Side of FIFA

A reflection on spikes in domestic violence, sexual assault allegations, and workers’ rights abuses during FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

A graphic depicting (from left to right) Kathryn Mayorga,  Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha Matturie, and Benjamin Mendy–with the title “The Dark Side of FIFA World Cup 2022.” Graphic courtesy of Elora Griswold.

The United Kingdom’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) received 1,060 child welfare calls about domestic abuse during the 2018 World Cup in Russia– a third more than their monthly average. As excitement builds for the remaining games in World Cup 2022 in Qatar, so does fear over a more sinister but seldom discussed reality: The NSPCC warned “hundreds of thousands of children could be at risk” throughout the ongoing 2022 Qatar World Cup series. 

While it’s a complicated and challenging conversation to have, the abuse of workers’ rights that made the World Cup 2022 in Qatar possible and the wave of domestic violence that will occur directly after the event goes directly against the core values outlined in FIFA’s Statutes of Conduct. After all, article 3 in their manual states, “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.”

This article is an investigation into why waves of domestic violence and workers’ rights abuses seem to be a common occurrence during these tournaments despite FIFA’s commitment to “promote the protection” of human rights. Many of FIFA’s biggest stars have led this toxic culture by example through sexual assault misconducts, so it’s also important to examine what their continued stardom says about televised sports programs with predominantly male viewerships.

We can separate these trends of domestic violence and sexual assault from the sport for examination–and in doing so, honor the community-first-driven spirit of soccer.

Organizations other than NSPCC have issued warnings of domestic violence ahead of the Qatar World Cup series. Many of these organizations were founded following the release of pivotal research from the University of Leicester who– through analyzing police reports from 2000-2010 across North England–found that violent incidents at homes increase by an alarming 38% when England loses a soccer game and are 26% higher when the team wins or draws. 

One such organization is Women’s Aid, an England-based charity that fights domestic violence globally through the charity’s “Come Together to End Domestic Abuse” campaign. The charity released a series of advertisements ahead of the Qatar World Cup 2022 series highlighting “the fear and isolation many women who are in danger of domestic abuse will experience during the World Cup.”

An advertisement from the Women’s Aid campaign series can be watched below. Please be warned the video contains themes of sexual violence and assault—video courtesy of Women’s Aid on Youtube.

In reference to this video, Women’s Aid wrote, “domestic abuse can become more frequent or severe during big football tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup. For many women, it is a time of fear, where existing domestic violence can increase. While football does not cause domestic abuse, existing abuse can intensify around key tournaments.”

Women’s Aid is not alone in its publicity campaign against expected violence surrounding the ongoing games. In a recent interview with the Yorkshire Post, former Leeds Rhinos rugby player Jamie Jones spoke out on behalf of Inspire North, an organization dedicated to ending domestic abuse and providing support to its victims and perpetrators. In the interview, he states, “The duration of the football World Cup can often lead to more arguments between partners about what to watch on the television, and matches often take place on weekends when alcohol consumption is much higher.”

A graphic showing Figure 1 from LSE British Politics and Policy’s 2021 study documenting fluctuations in alcohol-related domestic abuse cases following World Cups and UEFA Euro Championships games over the past decade. Graphic courtesy of LSE British Politics and Policy’s website.

In fact, recent data from 2021 published by LSE British Politics and Policy shows, on average, a 47% increase in reported alcohol-related domestic abuse cases on days when the England team wins and an 18% increase on days after an England match. Figure 1 (pictured above) shows that the increase in alcohol-related cases starts in the first three hours of the game, peaks in the next three hours, and then gradually declines to its original levels in the 24-hour period after the game. The study notes that “this pattern is highly consistent with the effect of prolonged alcohol-fueled celebrations following an England victory.”

In addition to the ramifications of excessive drinking during games, researchers have found that betting addictions contribute significantly to domestic violence spikes. While many viewers engage in more innocent forms of betting, the NSPCC warned that betting and tension during the tournament could “act as potential triggers” to incidents of abuse or violence at home.

One such incident triggered by betting can be found on NSPCC’s website–a short story sharing a 13-year-old girl’s experience after contacting Childline (the organization’s free child-abuse hotline) during the 2018 World Cup series.

A graphic summarizing a 13-year-old girl’s call to Childline during the 2018 World Cup. Graphic courtesy of Elora Griswold. 

While alcohol, betting, and tension have been identified as key contributing behaviors linked to domestic violence surrounding these televised games, another rarely discussed issue amongst the viewership is how these behaviors are modeled by FIFA players themselves. Some of FIFA’s biggest stars have been accused of assault, and the denial of this from the viewership and FIFA only furthers the harmful culture that encourages human and workers rights abuses. 

FIFA’s poster boy and biggest star is arguably Cristiano Ronaldo, who is playing for Portugal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Ronaldo is currently the most-followed athlete on Instagram with over 508 million followers–he’s also the overall most-followed person on Instagram as well as on Facebook. Despite the family-oriented, morally-strong character Ronaldo fronts, a careful investigation of his past reveals not-so-admirable actions with real-time repercussions. 

According to a recent investigative piece published by NPR, Nevada local Kathryn Mayorga sued Ronaldo to force him to pay “millions of dollars more than the $375,000 in hush money she received” after asserting he raped her in Las Vegas in 2009. Mayorga–a former model and teacher–claimed in the 2018 civil suit that she met Ronaldo at a nightclub and went with him to his hotel suite, where he assaulted her in a bedroom. While Ronaldo’s legal team does not dispute Ronaldo met Mayorga and they had sex in June 2009, they maintained it was consensual and not rape.

Recent reporting by The U.S. Sun also shows that Mayorga went to the Las Vegas Police Department and was examined in a hospital later that day, where evidence of the alleged rape was documented and photographed. Further, the report revealed that among 100 pages of emails between police and prosecutors on the criminal case, Vegas detective Jeffrey Guyer wrote, “DNA is back on Ronaldo and is a match.”

Despite these findings, the civil suit was dropped after U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey in Las Vegas kicked the case out of court to punish the woman’s attorney, Leslie Mark Stovall, for “bad-faith conduct” and the use of leaked and stolen documents detailing attorney-client discussions between Ronaldo and his lawyers. 

While Ronaldo’s case may seem isolated, there are plenty of other examples amongst FIFA’s stars. Manchester City soccer player Benjamin Mendy– has been at the heart of a recent sexual assault case as well. Mendy was charged in England in August 2021 with four counts of rape and one count of sexual assault. The court heard he met many of the women in Manchester nightclubs, often with the help of his “fixer”, Louis Saha Matturie, known as Saha, who is on trial alongside him charged with multiple counts of rape and sexual assault. In addition to Mendy’s pending 2021 case, a list of major FIFA stars accused of sexual assault in the past decade can be found here.

These assault cases from FIFA’s biggest stars–paired with data of domestic violence spikes correlating to televised World Cup series events– begs an important question. Why are the viewers of the 2022 Qatar World Cup series (or any televised sports series) not holding their athletes to the same standards other media figureheads are held to across different industries? After all, we’ve seen the flames of cancel culture enthrall artists such as Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen despite dropped sexual assault charges, so why have we not seen the same for FIFA figureheads such as Ronaldo or Mendy? 

The answer lies in examining World Cup viewership demographics. In contrast to Hollywood’s typical gender-split general audience, according to a November 2022 Statista research report, “15 percent of male respondents stated that they were very interested in the FIFA World Cup held in Qatar in 2022. Meanwhile, around 63 percent of female respondents displayed no interest at all in the soccer tournament.”

This male-driven interest in the World Cup series has led to an unsafe culture for the percentage of viewership that is female or nonbinary. This reality is a grave injustice given (in the words of famous female American soccer player Brandi Chastain) that “there are a lot of things that soccer does in the communities that transcend the soccer field.” The sport is meant to serve as a community-building and all-inclusive international pastime. Yet, we can see directly through data that women and nonbinary people suffer the consequences of male aggression triggered by the culture of alcoholism, betting, and assault-denial prevalent throughout the viewership and FIFA’s biggest stars. 

Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with loving the sport or watching next Sunday’s big game–just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying an old flick despite the presence of “canceled” stars over serious allegations. But accountability is important across industries–we can separate these trends of domestic violence and sexual assault from the sport for examination–and in doing so, honor the community-first-driven spirit of soccer that so many hold dear. 

This accountability can ultimately only come through World Cup viewership taking collective steps to stop platforming stars accused of sexual assault and hold them to the same level of accountability we hold others in our culture. In addition, it would require male stars (such as aforementioned rugby player Jamie Jones) to lead the charge in advocating against domestic violence, against peers that have swept sexual assaults under the rug, and partnering with organizations such as Women’s Aid or the NSPCC. 

As the finale to the Qatar World Cup series approaches, allegations other than those of domestic violence and sexual assault have resurfaced, which only further emphasize the importance of accountability from the tournament’s viewership. According to a recent investigative piece by The Washington Post, an estimated 400-500 people have died on the job since migrant workers were contracted to build the World Cup stadium in Qatar. The investigation reports that, of these workers, Nepal and India reported a much higher death toll in Qatar, given “Nepal and India account for only about 60% of the estimated 1.4m migrant workers in Qatar”.

Ultimately, complications over workers’ rights further demonstrate the general viewership’s  choice to put their entertainment before advocating for the safety of those directly affected by the World Cup series–with viewers by-in-large seldom supporting victims of domestic assault, sexual assault, or an end to workers’ rights abuses.

Billions will gather around TV screens over the following weeks to support their favorite team in the heated conclusion to 2022’s Qatar World Cup series. As Women’s Aid asserts at the end of their campaign ads, “1.6 million women experiencing domestic assault need your support too.” Hopefully, a FIFA future of accountability and male leadership in preventing domestic violence and sexual assault prevalent amongst the viewership of televised World Cup games is on the horizon.  

Elora welcomes students and faculty to reach out with suggestions for articles– you can reach her via email at eloraagriswold@smccme.edu or on Instagram at @elora.abigail.

Categories: OpEd

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